Bundled against the bite of a 20-degree afternoon, more than 40 people stood along the sidewalks at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Lebanon on January 21 and let their presence – and signs – do all the talking.
Carrying posters proclaiming “Love life, choose life,” “Abortion stops a beating heart,” and “Pray to end abortion,” the pro-life contingent filled all corners of 8th and Cumberland streets for the “Stand for Life Rally,” a noontime pro-life demonstration in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, D.C., that same afternoon.
“I think this is just the right thing to do – to be a witness to the unborn who cannot speak for themselves,” said Joanne Noll. She is the chairperson of the Respect Life group at Mary, Gate of Heaven Parish in Myerstown, which, along with Knights of Columbus Council 10194, sponsored the event, “Stand for Life.”
Their faces nearly hidden behind knit hats and the oversized hoods of their winter coats, siblings Gianna and Seth Stefanow of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Cornwall extended homemade signs from their mittened hands.
“We want to show that young people can be against abortion, too. It’s not always just older people,” said the siblings, 13 and 12, who attended the rally with their mom, Jessica.
Holding a sign that read, “Smile, your mom chose life,” Seth said he hoped those who passed by and saw the rally “would realize abortion is wrong.”
Gianna, carrying a neon pink poster with the words #EndAbortion, expressed hope “that people would understand that unborn babies deserve to have a chance at living.”
Inside Assumption BVM Church, additional participants could be found in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament throughout the morning. They prayed for unborn children and their mothers, and for an end to abortion, which was legalized on January 22, 1973, in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Prayers were also raised for the overturn of Roe as the nation awaits the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, arguments for which were heard on December 1.
“With all the attention the Supreme Court is receiving in regards to abortion and possibly overturning Roe v. Wade, now is the time to be more involved in the defense of life, born and unborn,” Noll said.
Ten miles east of Lebanon, pro-lifers in Palmyra were also giving witness to the sanctity of human life.
The parish’s Respect Life Ministry and Knights of Columbus Council 10502 hosted a local March for Life event in conjunction with the events in D.C. It included a livestream watch-party of the Rally for Life in Washington and culminated with a one-mile walk to the square in Palmyra, where participants prayed the Rosary.
Carrying pro-life signs, more than 60 marchers – including priests from local parishes – braced themselves against the sharp, sub-freezing temperatures as they made their way through the parish’s neighborhood and onto Main Street.
“Our purpose is really educating the people about pro-life and the sanctity of life, and to get the message out that every life is worth something,” said Art Bond, chairperson of Holy Spirit’s Respect Life Ministry.
“We were fortunate enough to have [people from] four or five parishes attend, which is great. Our goal is to expand it every year and get the word out. This year, we probably have 50 or 60 percent more than last year, so we’re excited about that,” Bond said, as passersby honked their horns in support of the prayerful and peaceful demonstration.
“We’re really just speaking about the sanctity of life. Our goal is really to touch one person, convert one person,” he added.
The local rallies in tandem with the tens of thousands rallying and marching in the nation’s capital allowed participants an opportunity to share their pro-life views directly in their local communities. The events were also a way for parishioners to stand in solidarity with the throngs in D.C., even if they were unable to make the trek to the National Mall and Constitution Avenue.
“My wife and I have always gone down to the March for Life in D.C., and there’s a lot of people who want to participate but couldn’t,” Bond said. “We came up with the idea to do it locally, and this way the elderly or people who have a tough time walking four or five miles in D.C. can have an alternative. We’ve had a wonderful response to it.”
“I feel the public witness is an opportunity for local people to show their support and witness for the dignity of the unborn baby,” Noll remarked. “Perhaps some people don’t have a chance to express their opinions, so the 40 some people that braved the bitterly cold temps here in Lebanon had that opportunity.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness